Lauren Cooley is an unlikely candidate to lead Broward’s Republicans. The 23-year-old Fort Lauderdale native has more than 26,000 Twitter followers, knows a thing or two about Instagram filters, and isn’t shy about her Netflix binge-watching habits. Cooley returned to the 954 after graduating from college last year. Now, she’s ready to enliven conservatives in the most reliably Democratic county in Florida.
“I find that most young people aren’t liberal but apathetic about politics,” Cooley says. “They don’t dislike Republicans; they just don’t know what they stand for. I want to change that.”
Two weeks ago, she decided to run for Broward Republican executive committee chair. The BREC election was last week, but Cooley didn’t win. The incumbent chair, Robert Sutton, did. But since Cooley — a no-name conservative — says she lost by only ten votes, she thinks it’s a sign that Broward’s Republicans want a change. “It was a close election,” Cooley says. “Robert Sutton got 90 votes, and I got 80.”
Leading Broward’s Republicans is no easy job. The chair is expected to find ways to make an impact in a predominately left-leaning county while still uniting the diverse GOP factions, from the tea partiers to moderates. There are 555,000 registered Democrats in Broward, more than double Broward’s 240,000 Republicans.
Cooley is determined to make an impact whether she’s chairperson or not. As the daughter of a small-business owner, she says she’s always been familiar with conservative politics, believing that government meddling is the surest way to suffocate people's livelihoods.
“We’ve all heard that Republicans are greedy, white old men,” Cooley points out. “I’m a Republican because I love the free market. If we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t have iPhones, Starbucks, Netflix, and other products that we love.”
In high school, Cooley led the Teenage Republicans at Westminster Academy. She attended Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, and was active in her College Republicans group and also led events through the university’s Conservative Students for a Better Tomorrow chapter. It was a liberal campus, Cooley says, and she worked hard to bring conservative ideas to the forefront.
It’s not easy being a conservative millennial. She says that students were accepting of her views but that she had to continually defend them to professors. “I’m a vocal person in class,” Cooley says. “When someone challenges my views, I speak up.”
Cooley graduated in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in political studies. She’s returned to Fort Lauderdale and has been working with grassroots conservative campaigns and is enrolled at the University of Miami’s graduate school for liberal studies. In Broward, she plans to continue to defend Uber and abolish the so-called homeless hate laws that prevent food sharing.
Her critics bash her social-media prowess. The conservative Red Broward blog points out that she doesn’t tweet about politics and that most of her followers are fake followers-for-pay accounts. (She did, however, tweet about the Republican debate last week.) “Despite touting herself as a millennial social-media guru, Cooley’s social-media accounts seem better-suited to an 80-year-old BREC member,” the blog stated. “Too much self-promotion, not enough action. BREC needs better.”
Cooley remains unfazed. “When I lost, I had two options: put my head down or get through this, strengthen my beliefs,” she says. “It made me a better person, and stronger. I can be 23 and run against the good ol’ boys in the Republican Party. I’m committed to this.”